FARMINGTON (AP) Some people might think that Richard Austin is a hero. Others, that hes absolutely crazy. Or, maybe, both.
But Austin doesnt know what all the fuss is about.
A local attorney who deals primarily with children, Austin, who is single with one adopted son, adopted six more children Nov. 18, and without a dry eye in the courtroom.
I dont see what the big deal is, Austin said quietly a few hours after the adoption proceedings, his arms resting on the familys dining room table. To me its just business as usual.
Austin knew what he was getting into. Hes been the six siblings foster parent for the last six months, and has known them for more than three years.
Its not something I really planned, Austin said. But when I saw how happy they were together, it just seemed like the thing to do.
Austin did not time the adoption to coincide with National Adoption Month, but the proceeding couldnt have come at a more perfect moment.
Nov. 18 was National Adoption Day.
The six children, ranging in age from 1 to 16, are siblings and most have been in the foster care system for the last three years, which is when Austin first made their acquaintance.
After seeing how happy they were together it was important not to split them up, Austin said. The likelihood of their being adopted as a group was pretty remote, and would most likely require them moving out of state. This way they get to stay together and be near their biological family.
There is no doubt that the newly created family is a close-knit group.
During the court proceedings, the love and respect between Austin and his children was obvious. They shared jokes, and 3-year-old Daniel kept calling him Daddy. At one point, while the judge was asking questions, 1-year-old Ezrae Austin decided he was done sitting in Austins lap.
For the rest of the proceedings, Ezrae explored the courtroom and even tried to visit District Court Judge Sandra Price, who was presiding.
While he answered the courts questions, Austins attention was focused where any dads would be: making sure his son wasnt getting into too much mischief.
Are you sure this is what you want to do? asked adoption lawyer Patricia Simpson.
Can I back out now? Austin joked, looking at the children. I am sure.
Austins newfound family was transferred into his care with the blessing of both the childrens biological mother and grandmother.
I think that what Rich is doing is the best thing I have ever seen in my life, said their grandmother Joanne Aguilar, her voice cracking from tears. Rich is the best dad, and he lets me see them. Its hard for me because they were with me, but this is in the childrens best interest. Hes a stable person, and its a stable place.
The childrens mother agreed.
I love my children, but this is in their best interest, said their biological mother, Brandi Aguilar. Its very hard for me, but I am grateful that they can all stay together.
She turned to Austin, tears in her eyes. Thank you for doing this.
Next to offer testimony was Austins adopted 19-year-old son, Michael.
I have been with him for 12 years, Michael said. I think I turned out all right so far. Hes a good dad and one of the greatest people Ive met in my life.
Judge Price agreed.
I do find, I dont know if you can make a finding like this, that Mr. Austin is one of the bravest, most courageous men I have seen come through this room, Price said.
While it may be business as usual for Austin, the sudden increase in family size means that they will be moving to a larger house.
Despite what would have many people quaking, Austin doesnt seem fazed by the huge amount of responsibility he has shouldered.
There are a lot of kids that are in need, and it isnt just newborns, Austin said simply. Its a lot of fun seeing how they adapt to a new home and change.
The eldest of the children, Shayla Aguilar, 16, thinks Austin is a good parent.
He is firm but loving, she said. With the younger kids, if they dont listen, he talks them through what they are doing wrong.
Austin explains his parenting style this way: A lot of kids in foster care dont have a lot of self-esteem, he said. They have been going from place to place so much that they often dont feel wanted.
I dont use negative reinforcement. I try to use a lot of positive encouragement, and really praise them when they get things right.
When Austin says there is a huge need for both foster and adoptive parents, he isnt overstating the problem.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are 100 children that need foster care in San Juan County, N.M., right now, and only 40 families available to provide the care.